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  • Deb Zahn

Stopping Decision Overload in Your Consulting Business

There are so many decisions to make when you are starting or building your consulting business that it easy to get overwhelmed.


The sheer volume of decisions may feel so paralyzing that you can’t make any decisions, or you stop from continuing down the consulting path at all.


It may make you feel so stressed that you just start making decisions without really knowing what the consequences may be or if the decisions are the right ones for you.


Does that sound familiar?

A Better Way to Start and Build

Luckily, there is a way to get through all that with less stress and get better outcomes.


Even though it can be overwhelming, remind yourself that you have what it takes to get to the other side and succeed. When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easier to succumb to doubt about yourself and your ability to succeed.


So, remind yourself that if you can do something to help clients achieve results they want and you are willing to learn the business of consulting, then it is likely that you will succeed as a consultant.


Once you can say yes to both of those, just remember that it is less a question of “if” and more of a question of “how.” Have faith in that—or at least enough faith to let yourself take the next few steps.


The other thing to remember is why you want to be a consultant. Why do you want to be a consultant? What do you want earning a living as a consultant to do for your life?


The answers to those questions form your own personal “why.” That why will make your consulting journey—and all the lumps and bumps you may experience—worth it.


You Get to Decide

There are some fundamentals to being successful as a consultant, but, ultimately, you get to decide how you want to be a consultant and run your business.


That may seem at odds with your feeling overwhelmed when confronted with too many decisions, but it’s still an important point. Why? Because chances are one of the reasons you want to be a consultant is to have more freedom and flexibility than most jobs allow. If that’s true, then celebrate that you don’t have to fit into some cookie-cutter mold of what a consultant is. You have to get the basics right, but, otherwise, you have the freedom and flexibility to do it your way.


Yes, you must define what you offer as a consultant, but those are your decisions. You have to get and keep clients, but you get to choose how and even which clients you want to work with. You have to earn an income that sustains your lifestyle, but you get to say how and when you will and won’t work. And on and on.


Think of all the things you did not get to decide when you were employed. Now many of those are now your choices.


That’s all pretty great, right?

Getting Past the Overwhelm

Having that agency is wonderful, but making decisions still has to be manageable. It doesn’t serve you or your business if you are the act of making decisions is consistently overwhelming and stress educing.


So how can you make it more manageable?


Deciding About Deciding Before Deciding

There are so many options for starting and building your consulting business that the best first step is to decide how you are going to decide.


Develop a set of clear criteria by which you will choose among various options. The beauty of this approach is that is helps you more quickly assess options and eliminate ones that don’t match your criteria.


Being able to quickly say no to some things is such a gift! Knocking some options off the list can make it so much easier to decide because now you have reduced the number of options to a more manageable number.


Using criteria also enables you to ensure that the choices you are making align with what matters to you in your business and life. For example, a criterion could be “It generates revenue faster,” but that could be balanced with the criterion “It aligns with my brand” so you don’t do any damage to your brand and reputation in your market just to get some fast revenue.


I would also include criteria about other meaningful things in your life. For example, you might include “It makes my daily life easier” or “It frees up my time outside of work.”


First Things First

The next step would be to define which decisions need to be made first and then set the other decisions aside for a later day.


Everything cannot be a priority. There’s a reason the work priority starts with “prior.” It means choosing what to do first.


Once you do that, your decision-making burden immediately lightens because you get to set other decisions aside until your make your first decisions.


I usually pick my first decisions by determining which ones will help me make future decisions. Once those decisions are made, I ask myself what I have to decide next.


For example, you have to decide what services and/or products you will offer as a consultant. Of course, you do! But is that the first decision?


I’d argue it is not. It makes more sense to start by deciding the who, that is, who you most want to work with (aka, your ideal client). If you decide that, then you can identify what problems and aspirations they have.


It also lets you decide where you want to serve, that is, the market(s) you want to be a consultant in.


Once you know the who (and what they care about) and the where, you can identify what value you offer that those types of clients in those specific markets will have a demand for.


All those decision makes you next decision, what services and/or products you will offer, so much easier!


It can help you avoid the risk of defining services without knowing if anyone will value them enough to buy them. It also makes the whole process easier because it stops the common phenomenon of spinning of trying to answer who, where, and what all at the same time.


You may also want to pick decisions that require a long time to implement. For example, you will have to decide what type of legal entity you want your consulting business to be. Once you decide, there are often numerous steps that take time. Making those decisions at the beginning will give you the lead time you need to get everything in place.


This process takes discipline. It’s easy to fall back into feeling like all decisions are priorities and urgent. It’s even easier to avoid the big, tough decisions and focus on the fun ones, like colors for your website. But the discipline with also make it easier for you to keep moving forward.


Being a Copycat

It’s also perfectly fine to take shortcuts. One of my favorite ways to do that is to just decide what someone I respect and is further down the road decided. For example, when I was picking a financial system and a social media platform, I just copied what other people I knew did. I knew they researched it. They told me what they did and didn’t like about them, and then just went with what they chose.


I didn’t want to spend the time researching it and figuring it out myself. I wanted to save that time and energy for things for which I really needed to make choices because the consequences of the choices were significant.


The key here is that everything doesn’t need your time and brainpower! Save those for what really does need them.


Switching Up

All of your decisions won’t be the right decisions. Or they won’t stay the right decisions.


There. I said it.


And, guess what? It’s OK. You can still be a successful consultant as long as you pay attention to the outcomes of your decisions, be willing to admit that you made the wrong choice (or something changed and now it is the wrong choice), and then switch up what you do. Make a new choice.


The truth is that this is a muscle that you want to build up over time because it is a valuable asset to your business. If I’ve learned anything after a decade of being a consultant, it is that being able to pay attention and switch up when it makes sense will help you be more successful in the long run.

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